Education Center

Pet Health Care: Keeping Your Pet Healthy

Find out about:

• Going to the vet

• Understanding symptoms

• Seasonal hazards

Preventative health care will add to the quality and length of your pet’s life. And prevention costs are often substantially less than treatment, so make sure that your pet visits your veterinarian at least once a year for its annual shots and a thorough examination.

It’s a good idea to establish an ongoing relationship with a vet as soon as you get your new pet. Consider choosing a vet near your home, and ask about his or her emergency hours. You should also keep handy the phone numbers of any emergency vet clinics in your area which are open 24 hours a day, including holidays.

What Vaccinations Does My Pet Need?

The pet you have adopted from the shelter may have had an initial deworming and set of shots. Be sure to ask questions about any kind of veterinary care your pet has received while at the shelter. In spite of any shots your pet has received, in the months and years that follow, each animal will need additional shots on a scheduled basis, as well as health exams.

Why do puppies and kittens need shots? The antibodies which these babies get from their mothers’ milk only protect them from some diseases and only for 6-16 weeks. Most puppies and kittens need extra attention during that first year and may also need to be treated for internal parasites.

Listed below are the recommended medical services which you can expect. Fees may vary depending upon the veterinary clinic, the area, and the size of the pet. Policies for frequency of treatments may also vary according to each clinic. Unexpected illness or injury are not outlined. It is a good idea to find a clinic you like and stick with it. Just as your medical doctor gets to know you, your vet will get to know your pet.

Medical services you will have for a dog or a cat:

  • Rabies vaccination and license (4 months and older)
  • Spaying females or Neutering males (required by law for all animals obtained from a humane society or animal control facility)
  • Deworming (as needed)
  • Office visit for physical exam
  • Inoculations and/or tests for the following diseases (6-8 weeks and older, as your vet recommends). This list is accompanied by a brief description of the diseases for which the vaccinations are recommended. They are divided for dogs and cats.

For Cats: Feline Distemper (Panleukopenia), Calici, Rhinotracheitis (Herpesvirus), Feline Leukemia test & vaccination. These vaccinations are available in various combinations and there is one that includes them all.  Your vet may use this or another combination.

  • Chlamydia, Calici, and Rhinotracheitisare the three most common upper respiratory diseases in cats. Symptoms are similar to the common cold or flu, causing sneezing, coughing, runny nose and eyes, fatigue and general misery, but these diseases are much more serious.
  • Panleukopenia(feline distemper) is not the same kind of disease as canine distemper and can not be transmitted between cats and dogs. This disease causes diarrhea, vomiting, depression and loss of appetite. Feline distemper is very common, highly contagious and is often deadly. The virus itself can live for a long time in many environments and the chances are high that your cat may, at some time, be exposed to this dangerous disease.
  • Feline Leukemia (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)both weaken the immune system of a cat. Both can be detected by a test, neither can be cured. Your cat can be protected from FeLV by receiving a vaccination, but responsible pet ownership is your cat’s only defense against FIV as there is still no vaccination.

For Dog: Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parvovirus, Coronavirus, often given as a “combination” shot- DHLP/P-C; Bordetella (Kennel Cough) which is given much like a nasal spray; Heartworm test & preventative purchased from your vet.

  • Distemper, Parainfluenza and Bordetellaare canine respiratory diseases. Distemper typically is signaled by cold like symptoms: coughing, sneezing, discharge from the eyes and nose, and lack of energy. Parainfluenza is airborne and is very contagious. Symptoms include: harsh dry cough, loss of appetite, runny eyes and nose and depression. Distemper and Parainfluenza are most often fatal or, if the dog does survive, they can cause serious damage to your dog’s system. Bordetella, while not fatal, does not have a cure. It is often treated with antibiotics to prevent secondary infection.
  • Viral hepatitisaffects the liver. Symptoms vary from slight fever and discharge from the eyes to depression or abdominal pain. Leptospirosis affects the kidneys. There are usually no early symptoms and the disease often is not detected until a severe kidney infection develops. Symptoms at this point can include weakness, vomiting, high fever, loss of appetite and extreme weight loss. Both diseases are difficult to detect and can cause serious damage and even death.
  • Parvovirus and Coronavirusare intestinal viruses. Symptoms for both parvo and corona will include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy and dehydration. Parvovirus is the most common fatal virus for dogs. Parvovirus is spread through contaminated body fluids. This virus can live on a surface for a long time and is difficult to destroy.
  • Year-round protection against heartworms is necessary in our climate. Preventative should only be given if the dog tests negative for heartworms and under the direction of your veterinarian. Treatment for heartworms, although often successful, is far more stressful and expensive than prevention.

In general, be extremely cautious of using home remedies for your pet. Before using “people medications,” consult your vet; the results could be fatal. Also, do not give one pet’s medication to another pet without consulting your vet. A pet with the same or similar symptoms may have a completely different disease. Be cautious when reading labels of medication, shampoos, sprays etc., as there are products on the market that are safe for dogs, but fatal for cats.

Taking your pet’s health too lightly could endanger your family’s health. There are diseases and parasites which can be transmitted from dogs to humans, so keeping your dog healthy is best for everyone in your household. Many of these pet diseases have no cure; vaccination and responsible pet ownership are your pet’s only defense.

Seasonal Hazards

Vaccinations and trips to the vet are only part of the protection your pet needs. Responsible choices about your pet’s activities are a big part of preventive care. All animals need protection from heat, wet, and cold, as do humans. Your pet has special requirements for the different seasons.


You may want fun in the sun in the summertime, but your pet wants shade and water. Without it, he can overheat, become ill, and die in a short time. If you leave your pet in the car on a hot day or in the yard or house without shade or water, you are risking your pet’s life.

High temperatures and humidity are a particularly deadly combination for dogs because, unlike humans, they do not perspire to cool themselves. Instead, the lungs move air in and out to rid the body of excess heat and moisture, allowing a normal body temperature of 101-102F. If the temperature and humidity get too high, this cooling process can’t work effectively and the dog collapses from heatstroke. Heatstroke is a life-threatening emergency; it can kill.

Watch for the signs – heavy panting, rapid pulse, difficulty in swallowing, glazed or staring eyes, salivating, vomiting, or physical collapse. Call your veterinarian immediately, and begin first aid to lower your dog’s body temperature by immersing it in room temperature (not cold) water. Provide a bowl of ice cubes to lick instead of water. You don’t want your dog to drink too much too soon.

Indoors/Outdoors — An indoor pet usually does a pretty good job of keeping cool, but a little common sense on your part can help. Make sure that water bowls are kept full of fresh, cool water and are always accessible. If your pet is confined to any one area during the day, be certain that it is well-ventilated and has a cool place to stretch out (linoleum, shaded concrete, etc.). Make sure your pet can’t get too close to electric fan blades.

When pets are outdoors, shelter provides protection from bad weather and biting insects. Be sure that any structure or shelter provided for your pet is well-ventilated to prevent inside air from heating too quickly. Shade from trees, tall bushes, or porches provide both protection from the sun and an unlimited supply of fresh air. Remember that the sun moves during the day, so the shade does too. To replace the moisture lost during cooling, fresh water should always be available to your dog. Refill overturned bowls and freshen warmed water, but never give your pet ice water… it can shock their system and cause severe upsets. If you aren’t going to be home, leaving your dog inside is its best protection.

Exercise – Dogs are naturally designed for sprinting… NOT for uninterrupted running or jogging. During such exercise, the body temperature rises faster than excess heat can leave. Add warm weather to the formula, and heatstroke is the result. In the summer, exercise of any sort (for both of you!) should be cut back and limited to the cooler early morning or late evening hours. Also remember that a dog’s feet are very sensitive and hot concrete burns their pads.

You should also carefully supervise any animal “water sports.” A dog swimming unattended soon panics when he becomes disoriented or cannot climb out; he tires and drowns. A dog cannot get out of a pool without help. Access to pools and waterfronts should be both child and pet-proof.

Many pets love to swim, but the heat and sunlight around water sources are so intense that you must, again, be especially alert to signs of overheating and for other potential problems. The chemicals in swimming pool water are irritating to a pet’s eyes, and the beach offers your pet a unique opportunity for misery: intense heat, burning sun, eye-stinging salt water, hot sand, no natural shade, and no fresh water.

Hot Car – Even ten minutes could be too long for a pet left in a car on a warm day. In just a few minutes, the temperature inside of the car could reach 160F. That’s hot enough to cause a dog to suffer brain damage or even death. The quick stop you plan to make at the store can easily stretch to 15 minutes or more before you know it, and your mistake could result in the death of your pet. Leaving the window cracked won’t cool the car enough to protect your pet and could invite thieves. Once again, the safest place for your pet is at home.

In many areas, riding a dog in an open truck is against the law. A dog cannot brace itself against sudden stops. Flying debris can injure your dog’s eyes, nose and ears, or your dog could suffer from sunburn, heatstroke or burn itself on the truck’s hot surfaces. Even tied, a dog can be hurt jumping or falling out of a truck.


Even in our relatively mild winters, dogs need protection from wet and cold either inside your house or inside their own. Most small and short-haired dogs are best kept inside when it gets cold. An outdoor dog needs a winter coat and its dog house should be dry and elevated with clean, dry bedding and a flap over the opening to keep out drafts. Consider adding a dog door to the garage and a soft cushion in the warmest corner.

Diet – Check water bowls often when the temperature dips below freezing, and break the ice or refill with water as necessary. An outdoor dog may need more calories in the winter to produce body heat; on the other hand, an indoor dog may exercise less during the colder months and need fewer calories. Ask your vet about increasing or decreasing the amount you feed your dog.

Chemicals – Antifreeze smells and tastes great to dogs, but it is a deadly poison. Watch for radiator drainage spots in driveways and flush them clean immediately. Chemicals used to melt ice and snow on sidewalks can irritate your pet’s paws (and burn your pet’s mouth if it licks), so you may need to wipe them with a wet cloth after an outing. Pets outside in the snow may need the ice between their paw pads removed.


The special activities at holiday times offer dangerous opportunities for dogs.

Food – Overindulgence during holidays is a human tradition which can be serious trouble for dogs. Alcohol or chocolate can be toxic for your dog. Keep it away from Easter baskets, Christmas stockings, and Halloween bags. During family feasting times, be strong with your “no people food” rule! If you must give your dog something special, there are plenty of dog treats that are tasty and healthy.

Festivities – To ensure your pet’s security and peace of mind on days such as the Fourth of July, we recommend that you leave your pet inside the house, or sheltered in a basement or garage, with the windows and curtains closed and the air conditioner or fan on at a normal level. These precautions will reduce and muffle the frightening sounds outside. It will also help during parties when doors are frequently being opened. Any pet who is easily frightened at the backfire of a car or who is frightened by ordinary thunder and lightning should NOT be left at home alone during fireworks.

Decorations – Crepe paper, tinsel, ribbons, decoration hooks, fragile glass ornaments, holiday lights, Halloween costumes, and all of the other holiday decor we add to our households are all tempting and dangerous to dogs. Candles are fascinating, and it only takes one wag or sniff for disaster to strike. Many traditional holiday plants are toxic. Check with your vet for a list of poisonous houseplants. Decorate with careful thought to placement and access.

As you can see, a pet requires attention, time, and a financial commitment. Be sure you are committed to your pet’s good health before you take it home. Accepting a new pet means a lifetime promise of care, no matter what! Are you ready for this? Good luck and remember your pet depends on you for all of its needs.

This information is part of the Atlanta Humane Society’s SmartHeart Educational Series. The AHS depends on friends to provide funding for our services and programs of animal aid, support for individuals with animal related problems, and community animal issues.The Atlanta Humane Society and Society For Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals, Inc. is a private nonprofit organization for the purpose of preventing cruelty, relieving suffering, and providing humane treatment of animals. The Society’s mission is to eliminate causes of animal suffering with an emphasis on education and the human/animal bond.